Nothing Shallow About GIRLFRIEND 19

6 Oct

Depth-of-field is a filmmaking term used to describe the area of focus in front of and behind the main subject of a shot.  When little is in-focus, the shot is said to have shallow depth-of-field and when much is in-focus, the shot is said to have deep depth-of-field.

For example, the bridge behind my beautiful wife below is distinctly out-of-focus, hence, shallow depth-of-field:

In this next shot, the bridge is much more in-focus, thus, deeper depth-of-field:

Depth-of-field can be controlled by a few factors, but I’ll spare you the technical details!  It’s more important to note that, shallow depth-of-field is often visually and aesthetically associated with professional filmmaking.  Here’s an example from the phenomenal film, Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), directed by Sergio Leone:

On the flip side, great films also utilize deep depth-of-field quite often.  Here are more examples from the same scene in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969):

For a long time, shallow depth-of-field was difficult to achieve on consumer video cameras; however, recent technological advances have made it very simple.  As a result, aspiring filmmakers have armed themselves with this new technology in an attempt to make more “professional” looking movies.  And rather than use depth-of-field intentionally, many have exploited shallow depth-of-field, which has resulted in a glut of gratuitous shallow focus imagery.

As I conceptualized my visual scheme for Girlfriend 19, I was tempted to primarily use shallow depth-of-field for its stunning and professional qualities.  However, more and more, it became clear to me that deep focus would serve my vision much more accurately.  I was reminded that, in the end, depth-of-field is simply a tool in my filmmakers toolbox and must be used intentionally.

I took some screen shots of my deep focus Girlfriend 19 footage, then added a shallow focus effect.  Take a look at the difference and please note my explanation of use in the captions.


Rob & Bethany in the mirror with shallow depth-of-field added.

Rob & Bethany in the mirror as originally shot with deep focus. With more in focus, the eyes dart back-and-forth within the frame, adding to the tension of the scene.

Bethany seated alone with shallow depth-of-field added.

Bethany seated alone as originally shot with deep focus. The sugar bowl and flowers in the foreground are significant props in the film and deserve attention.

Bethany seated alone in the background with shallow depth-of-field added.

Bethany seated alone in the background with deep focus as originally shot. With the foreground in focus, Bethany is minimized and diminished even more within the frame.

Not everything in Girlfriend 19 was shot in deep focus.  There definitely were  moments that demanded shallow depth-of-field for a variety of reasons.

Bethany alone outside at night. This was intentionally shot with shallow depth-of-field to bring total focus on Bethany's face. The environment around her is not very significant.



6 Responses to “Nothing Shallow About GIRLFRIEND 19”

  1. Josh October 8, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I think you will have an advantage in that, upon completion, your film won’t look like every other independent film made this year. Well done for exposing the myth of the “professional film look”, and what a great example to use…long live Leone!

  2. Chuck Norton October 7, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    I love seeing the side-by-sides. Very cool.

  3. Rae October 6, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Learned something! Cool!

  4. Jay October 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    Great post. Was just discussing this with a friend after shooting with a Canon MK2 and opting to not constantly use shallow depth of field for what I was shooting. In the end of the day it’s all about story your telling, if the technique services the story use it, if it doesn’t, let it go. Cool blog bro and thanks for being brave and sharing your journey, much appreciated.

    • Christopher October 6, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Jay. I really appreciate your kind words… And I’m glad there are others out there who aren’t drinking the shallow DOF Kool-Aid! LOL

      Looking forward to more of your thoughts in the future…

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